Fred Kagonye: A Start of Great Things To Come

Writing this piece is hard for me because I feel I’m not yet there to share my story. It took a lot of convincing from Ess to do it. Here is my story.

I am Fredrick Kagonye, the last born in a family of four. My other siblings are way older than me so I was brought up alone in Ithanga, Murang’a County.

I cleared my O levels in 2010 and when the results came in February 2011, I did not perform well. But, it was good enough to enroll for a diploma in journalism at Uzuri Institute of Technology and Development.

In Uzuri, I wasn’t the best when it came to presenting or doing a piece-to-camera but I was very good in news writing.

I remember once, when presenting radio news, my Lecturer told me “Fred you can’t do it in news with that pace” (my talking pace is very high). That hit me very hard and I lost interest in everything about the media industry. But, I took solace in news writing and video editing.

I cleared college in May 2013 and joined Heritage Media Solutions for my internship. Here, I did a lot of marketing and emerged top compared to my fellow interns. My boss would leave me in charge whenever he was away and this built my confidence back.

THE TRIGGER

In the office, we had a laptop we used to work with and it had an Investigation, Ghururi ya Saitoti, by my role models Mohammed Ali (Moha) and John-Allan Namu (Uncle John).

I loved this story and I watched it several times. Once I did, I’d imitate Moha. From this, I developed the interest for Investigative Reporting.

In August that year, the duo did another compelling film “Call the Executioner” about Extra Judicial killings in the Coast and this only grew my interest in the field.

I cleared my internship in September and graduated in November. My boss told me I can be good in PR and when I left, I knew I wanted to do PR and not in the newsroom. In April 2014, I applied and enrolled in St. Paul’s University (SPU) to do a major in PR and a minor in Mass Communication.

THE FIRST MEETING WITH MOHAMMED ALI

In June 2014, there was a Poetry Event at Pawa 254 and the guest speaker was my role model-Mohammed Ali. I thought this is the best chance to meet him. I went to Pawa 254 and finally met Moha.

Meeting him meant I had to edge closer to where he is. This meant a lot of research in that field. I embarked on this new field of Investigative reporting and started reading about reporters in Africa and the World.

Through this, I got to know of; Ghana’s Anas, Sierra Leone’s Sorious Samura,         South Africa’s Mzilikazi wa Afrika and others.

THE OFFER

Time went by and I got an offer to do a story with a fellow student Naima Ali. We were looking for an Investigative story and cyber bullying was the easiest to do. We picked out possible sources for interviews.

Mohammed Ali and Lilian Muli were the most bullied. Getting to Lilian was hard so we settled for Moha. I reached out to him on Twitter and booked him for an interview in January 2015 but it fell through because he was busy.

THE HIDDEN OPPORTUNITY

February came and the three media houses went on strike due to the digital migration saga. This presented an opportunity to finally meet him.  I booked for an appointment at 11:30 am and on the material day, everything started going south.

We went to the university’s studio to get the camera and Mr. Wainaina, the studio technician, told us “We don’t give cameras to clubs”. We were covering the story for the Journalism club. Hearing this, my colleague gave up and went back to class.

TIME RUNS OUT

This was my only chance to get close to my role model and time was running out. I had to be at Standard Group Company (SGC) before 11:30 am because that’s the time Moha was leaving his office.

I went and talked to a boda boda guy who told me it would cost me Kshs. 800. That was all I had. We negotiated and he agreed to take me there for Kshs. 450.

I got to the gate of SGC in time and when I was escorted to his office, I was very nervous but he made me relax and guided me through the interview. He made feel like Mehdi Hassan.

I got a lot of insights from his side on the way to improve Kenyan Journalism and also what I could do to end up where he is.

The interview ended and he offered me a ride in his car!

A NEW PERSPECTIVE

That was my best day and little did I know, it was going to open up new avenues to grow in this field.

I continued studying on Investigative Reporting and that’s how I discovered Al Jazeera. I got to know of Investigative shows like Fault lines, People & Power and 101 East and also Al Jazeera Investigates.(I can’t miss any of the shows to date)

These shows introduced me to a new frontier of Investigative journalism.

KIHIU MWIRI LAND SAGA

A certain story started hitting the headlines about the murder of the Kihiu Mwiri company directors. I reached out to Moha, Uncle John and Denis Onsarigo (Deno) on twitter and told them of the killings. Deno responded by asking how many had been killed.

After two more company directors had been killed, it became a top story on the three main dailies.

With this, I convinced Deno to do the story. He asked for my number and in August, he called me. We travelled to Kihiu Mwiri and shot the story which aired in August 23rd

KANJO KINGDOM 

After the story aired, a friend tipped me off about the brutal treatment and killing of hawkers by County Council Askaris. I got the contact of the hawkers chairperson, Kimani Waweru, and started following up on the matter.

I followed it up for two months and attended their forums where they aired their issues but it got to a point I realized the story was beyond me. I reached out to Moha and Uncle John who told me they had been working on it for the last three months. I’d brought them a very good source (the chairperson).

At this time, Kassim Mohamed and John-Allan Namu resigned from KTN to form Africa Uncensored.

The story developed and we started shooting in January 1st. Some of the askaris were arrested and the court process began. I attended every court process until the askaris were released on bond.

The film dubbed “Kanjo Kingdom” aired in April 2016.

At around that time my boss, Andrew Teyie, was sacked by NMG over a story he did. I reached out to him on Facebook and told him I’d love to see him create an independent news site like Africa Uncensored.

THE START OF GLOBE NEWS

He did start a news site and that’s where I work to date. But, of late I haven’t been posting stories because I’m on a sabbatical.

When I was visiting Moha and Uncle John, I gave them an idea of training young Journalists like the Stabile Centre of Investigative Journalism in Columbia University. They train Journalists, assess them and fund them to do Investigative stories to get published in different media houses.

When Namu left KTN together with Kassim, they launched Africa Uncensored & there they rolled this idea out with Moha in the pipes.

They advertised opportunities for the training dubbed Investigate 101 and I purposed to apply. I reached out to Teyie for a recommendation letter which he gladly gave me and wished me the best.

I applied with one recommendation letter knowing too well that I might lose out to people with experience. Luckily, I got selected (Moha & Namu later told me I was number one on their list).

fred-poster-002

THE INVESTIGATIVE 101 TRAINING

When the training started, we were ten trainees. Our training station was at Pride Inn Hotel in Westlands by two great tutors from the UK Judy Aslett and Steve Holloway.

In the introduction, I realized I was the only student. The other guys work in different capacities in the media, some winning numerous awards.

The training was eight days. Towards the end of the training, we were to do a three minute piece which was judged by Namu & Moha. I was paired with Dennis Mbae and our story was “3 years after Westgate”.

We presented them the story and the comments from the two were encouraging with Moha saying if he was in charge of news at KTN he’d have run the stories as we did better than most mainstream journalists.

The other stories were: the number 13 Superstition, the Investigate 101 Training, Bank interest rates and Graffiti in Matatu’s.

After that, we were divided into two groups. In the groups, we were to come up with two story ideas and the trainers would pick one idea that we would pursue. Africa Uncensored would then to fund us with Kshs. 250K to pursue the Investigative story.

I was grouped with Wacera, Barbra, Simon and Maurice. Our story was on the conflict/banditry between the Pokot and Marakwet in Kerio Valley. We divided roles and travelled to Kerio Valley on Sunday 30th October.

THREATS IN KERIO VALLEY

The journey took us 12 hours but we managed to shoot some interviews that day before sleeping at the Chesongoch Catholic Church guesthouse.

The following two days we set out to do interviews which were successful. My colleagues told me to do the Swahili part which was challenging and abrupt. I accepted and did some PTC’s (Pieces to Camera).

My favorite part was on Wednesday evening where we wanted to see how the construction site was going. Five days ago the Deputy President, W. Ruto, had ordered police stations to be moved from Elgeyo Marakwet to the border along Kerio River to prevent the sporadic attacks.

We met the County commissioner on our way there who told us it’s very risky to go there. He asked us to turn back and leave. While reversing, I saw a guy with an AK47 and I felt we needed to talk to him. I approached him for an interview which he gladly agreed but a police reservist in our company cautioned him against speaking to us and asked him to leave.

While my colleagues were taking GV’s (General Views) of the cattle, I followed him and convinced him to talk to us.

We weren’t satisfied with what we were told and we felt it would be good to visit the camp along Kerio River.

The following day, we went there. Little did we know we would get detained and accused of trespassing.

We were let go soon after but on condition we delete some of our footage. We set on the journey to Pokot but we didn’t manage to get there because of the security issue. We came back, slept at Nakuru and arrived in Nairobi the following day.

A START OF GREAT THINGS TO COME

During our time there I learnt a lot of things and I’m thankful to Africa Uncensored, my Friends and Role Models Moha, Namu and Kassim and to Judy and Steve as well for the opportunity to learn that much.

The story is in post-production. I’m editing it as well as doing a Swahili script. It will air in January. It’s a start of great things to come.

That’s my short story. Thanks for reading . Baraka.  A big thank you to Ess for the opportunity to share it.

By: Fredrick Kagonye.

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